Wine & Food


    4 June 2016

    It sounds so promising. A dinner party without any of the hassle, thanks to Amazon Prime Now. The online retailer has recently begun delivering fresh food within the hour. You can skip the supermarket, order on the way home, then pootle around laying the table and applying mascara. I decided to give it a whirl and invited a group of friends over for an impromptu dinner one Thursday.

    Usually I’d plan the menu days in advance, but in the spirit of the service I resist looking at the app until 5.30 p.m. I thought it would be like any of the other supermarket delivery services, with a wide range of products. Instead, as I scroll through, my optimism plummets. There is only the most basic selection of fruit and vegetables: apples and broccoli, yes; pomegranate seeds (yes, I like Ottolenghi) or even lemons, no. The meat and fish is all from the frozen goods section, or else ultra-processed, pre-flavoured ready-meals. Even the cheese is lowest common denominator: Philadelphia or Cathedral City cheddar are the most exciting offerings.

    The dried goods section is a little more replete, although the selection of spices is limited and those they do sell come in vast industrial-sized sacks. I am stymied. I can’t even serve plain old roast chicken with this selection. Deciding to make the best of it, I put in an order of crisps and guacamole for a snack, lentils, red onions, curry powder and tinned tomatoes with broccoli on the side for the main event and canned peaches with yoghurt for pudding. It’s an odd selection – dhal is delicious, but needs a wider palette of spices than boring old curry powder to make it come alive.

    By the time I have scrabbled together this unorthodox shopping list, it is 5.57. The app tells me I have missed the 6–8 p.m. delivery slot, so I have to settle for 8–10. Never mind, I think brightly: as I’ve ordered so early it’s bound to arrive sooner rather than later, and no one minds chatting for half an hour. There’s a screen where you can check the progress of your order: at 6.15 I see it is being prepared somewhere near Tower Hamlets. I send some emails and settle down to read for an hour.

    At 7.45 the order is still being prepared, and still in Tower Hamlets. I live in Fulham. I panic and email everyone telling them to arrive half an hour later than previously arranged. I think about ordering some frankfurters via Prime Now, as they cook so quickly, but then get anxiety that they’ll be added to the existing order, delaying it even further. I open and shut my fridge door at least 40 times. The 40th time I alight upon some soggy carrots at the back, and half a pot of hummus. I frantically peel the carrots and arrange them on a platter. I go and have a long shower. By the time I emerge it’s still only 8.11.

    At 8.27, with everyone due in three minutes, I decide to rush to the corner shop and buy a bulk order of pasta and pesto, and some cheap wine. Ever mindful that the Amazon order might arrive, I try to make a note on the order that they should leave it on the doorstep while I’m out. An automated message pops up: fresh produce cannot be left outside. Computer says no. I go out anyway.

    By the time my friends arrive I am, by gigantic effort of will, still sober — although my vape has been gnawed to a splinter. Everyone else is expectant, cheerful — and starving. I appease them with the carrot batons, but the food keeps not arriving and at 9.15 my patience snaps. With grim determination I set to work, boiling the kettle furiously. We all sit down to pasta and pesto at 9.35. As I carry the final plate upstairs, the doorbells rings: supper has arrived.

    The experiment is a failure. Only someone with a will of steel could have started preparing the food at the time it arrived without a stress-induced psychiatric breakdown. We have the peaches and yoghurt for pudding — utterly delicious in a nursery-food sort of way, but then I could just as easily have picked them up at the corner shop on my pesto run.

    As so often with Amazon, I feel cheated: it promises so much, delivers so little, and so late.